By Cynthia Bee, Conservation Garden Park
For most of us, attending to weeds in the landscape is one of our least favorite tasks. Some of us are so put off by the idea that we live with “blandscapes” made up primarily of lawn—in large part because of the perception that planting beds will simply require too much extra work. However, a properly designed, irrigated and maintained planting bed actually requires significantly LESS time and effort than lawn while dramatically increasing the curb appeal of your home.
One of the mistakes we often make is to undersize planting beds in the belief that it will create less area to weed. But once shrubs and plantings grow to their full natural size, we’re stuck with lots of extra pruning to keep them in the bounds of the beds we’ve created—which is trickier to manage than simple weeding. Pruning shrubs up from the ground also allows more sunlight to penetrate the soil, which helps weed seed germinate and grow.
Instead, create wider planting beds, then fill them with shrubs whose natural size will fit the space at maturity. This keeps the edges of the lawn clear of shrub growth and reduces pruning needs. Also, allow branches near the ground to remain on the shrub so they shade the soil and reduce sunlight to weeds, making it harder for them to grow.
The most important factor in reducing weeds in planting beds is the way the beds are watered. Most homeowners don’t know that plants and lawn have very different watering needs—and should be watered separately. If planting beds are watered the same as lawn, we’re applying about four times more water than the planting bed needs, creating optimal conditions for weed growth. We may not realize it, but in this scenario, we’re cultivating weeds like a cover crop. Yikes!
Drip irrigation applies water only to the plants we wish to grow and not obnoxious weeds. Kits to convert planting beds to drip are available at irrigation suppliers and are relatively easy to install.
As a final touch, cover planting beds with a thick coat of mulch 2-4 inches deep to further reduce weed seed germination. Mulch shades the soil, but an added benefit is it reduces evaporation of water from the soil.
Another secret to controlling weeds, especially the flush of annual weeds in spring, is to apply a pre-emergent herbicide (follow the instructions on the label for best results). There are both chemical and organic versions but both work to inhibit the germination of seeds. Keep in mind that they’re non-selective so they’ll inhibit all seeds from germinating but won’t hurt existing plants nor kill existing weeds. Once the seeds germinate, pre-emergents won’t help so apply them BEFORE spring weed growth begins.
To learn more about ways to create an amazing Utah landscape, visit the Conservation Garden Park. http://conservationgardenpark.org.